Make It Last All Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were an American rock band from Gainesville, Florida, that formed in 1976.  The band was originally comprised of Tom Petty (lead singer, guitar), Mike Campbell (lead guitarist), Ron Blair (bass guitar), Stan Lynch (drums), and Benmont Tench (keyboards).  This group was formed from a band that was originally called Mudcrutch and when they went to record an album the record company liked their music, but they only wanted Petty, not the band.  When Petty put this new band together, someone suggested that the new group should be called the Heartbreakers, which made Petty laugh, as he knew these guys and nothing could be further from the truth, as their first love was music, not girls, but it had a good ring to it and that became their name.

‘American Girl’ was written by Tom Petty and recorded on the group’s self-titled debut album, which was released in 1976.  This song didn’t make the US charts on its initial release, although it did make the British Top 40 and it got to the American charts with its re-release in 1994 on Petty’s Greatest Hits album.  The band was reportedly frustrated that FM radio program directors didn’t push the song back home.  This was always a popular song when it was played at any of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concerts and many people have said it is his best song.  The lyrics in this song hit at certain mysterious things about this American girl.  Some people say Petty wrote this about a University of Florida coed who jumped to her death from the Beatty Towers dormitory and his fans do seem to enjoy working on a mystery.  Another variation of the urban legend has the unnamed girl tripping on hallucinogens and attempting to fly, so this song has attracted its own urban mythology and it became one of the most covered tracks in music history.  All of these stories are myths, but the whole jumping suicide thing is very eerie and since Petty quit High School in order to pursue his music career, he probably wouldn’t have known this college girl.

Although it got off to a quiet start, ‘American Girl’ went on to become pop-rock gospel, and it has been hailed as one of the 100 best guitar songs of all time.  It is a catchy tune that grew into the kind of ubiquitous anthem that every generation will hum at traffic stops and local dive bars, or even just enjoying a quiet evening at home, and it ended up being one of the best rock songs of all time.  It has been called more than a classic rock standard becoming a modern standard for millions of American girls (and boys), developing into part of the American literary canon.

The song, about a girl on a balcony facing a great big world on Highway Four Forty One which Tom knew as it runs 433 miles from Miami in South Florida northwest to the Georgia border north of the Lake City area.  Tom wrote this song a few months after he had left small-town Florida for a music career in Los Angeles and he was living in an apartment near the freeway in Encino, not too far from Leon Russell’s house.  He heard the cars going by, which he thought sounded like the ocean when the waves would crash, and that must have inspired the lyrics.  Tom grew up in the “redneck, hillbilly part” of Gainesville and a lot of this song is autobiographical, as he was the one who was “raised on promises”, and he “couldn’t help thinking that there was a little more to life.”

If you look closely at the lyrics, they aren’t all that dark, as this song is about a girl who has dreams and there is no more powerful message then having a dream that you are able to accomplish something.  This song is presumes as being tragic, as people interpret it being about a girl who jumps to her death, because she is on a balcony, but it says, “if she had to die trying”, that she “Had one little promise she was gonna keep”, and this reminds me of the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Since she had a promise to keep, she probably had miles to go before she would meet her demise.  It is a cold night and she hears the cars which sound like waves and then she has “one desperate moment” where she remembers a guy from her past.  This is a painful memory for her, because they were so close to finding true love where they could have had it all, but it wasn’t to be and he will always remain “so far out of reach”, so I think this is an unrequited love song.  It is not hard to confuse the lyrics and think of them as being about a mixed up American girl, but maybe this chick has it all together, and if she takes it easy, she could make it last all night, which is a very sexy ending for any song.

Well, she was an American girl,
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinking that
there was a little more to life
Somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to
And if she had to die
Tryin’, she
Had one little promise she was gonna keep

Oh yeah, alright,
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl.

Well, it was kind of cold that night,
She stood alone on the balcony
Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by,
Out on four forty one like
Waves crashing on the beach,
And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God, it’s so painful when something that’s so close
Is still so far out of reach

Oh yeah, alright,
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl.

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the theme this week is American music.

17 thoughts on “Make It Last All Night

  1. Tom Petty’s death hit me hard. I was actually surprised at how hard. His music was/is such a part of my life. I’m very lucky that I got to go to one of his concerts.🎶💃🏼

    I never heard the urban legends, so I always thought this song was about going after what you want in life🤷🏼‍♀️
    It’s always great to learn something new!

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  2. I never thought this song was about a suicide. I got a sense of determination to push thru. A suicidal girl would not be thinking of a great big world with lots of places to run to or having a promise that she must keep.

    That Encino apartment probably inspired another of his great songs.

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  3. My favorite Tom Petty song. I miss him. I’m reading a book now on Don Felder although I don’t like the Eagles…I like him and a few others…Don Felder grew up in the same area as Tom and he gave Tom guitar lessons when Tom was a teen…thought that was interesting.

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      1. What would be a good post Jim…is who grew up in the 60s and 70s in Florida and had bands… Felder, Stephen Still (Him and Felder in a band), Petty, Duane and Gregg Allman who were friends with Felder, Lynyrd Skynyrd…there were a bunch more. Florida had a huge scene back then.

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